Mr Nick’s legacy: Building Adelaide’s Finest Supermarkets

Nick Chapley, the 89-year-old founder of Adelaide’s Finest Supermarkets, looks delighted. He’s just been embraced by a regular shopper at Pasadena Foodland who describes the store as her “absolute happy place”.

Nick and his son Spero often hear such comments from customers who have a sentimental attachment to this family-owned and proudly South Australian business. The father and son team has created supermarkets which are so much more than simply places to buy your groceries.

Yes, both shops stock a phenomenal range of products across every supermarket category imaginable—but they’re also places where you can meet friends and family for a restaurant-quality meal; drop in for a specialty coffee and housemade patisserie treat; indulge in a glass of Champagne and oysters, pick up a bunch of locally-grown flowers or even stop and listen to a pianist play your favourite tunes.

Nick Chapley, known to all as Mr Nick, is a familiar face to everyone who shops at his family’s celebrated business. He’s the well-dressed gentleman often spotted on the shop floor at Frewville and Pasadena, mingling with customers and staff, and taking a genuine interest in everything happening in the stores.

He’s the founder of this award-winning business, twice named the world’s best supermarket, and he celebrated an extraordinary 70th business anniversary in 2021. Now this retail industry legend has added an OAM to his name after receiving the Medal of The Order of Australia (OAM) earlier this year.

It was a well-deserved honour which recognised Nick’s achievements developing and pioneering innovative, world-leading supermarkets and it also paid tribute to his philanthropic support of marginalised youth and communities. 

Nick’s family—his wife and their three children—joined him at the Government House ceremony where some tears of pride and admiration were shared. He is a modest person by nature and describes the OAM as “an extraordinary honour for a Greek immigrant of very humble beginnings”. Those who know him, see the OAM as a worthy recognition for a man who is so well respected across many sectors and communities.

Nick’s family, friends, colleagues and staff are all aware his business success is no accident but the result of hard work, resilience and an entrepreneurial, community-minded spirit. He experienced considerable hardship in his early life throughout the war years but these challenges helped shape the person he is today.

A key ethos of the family business has always been to make a positive and enduring impact on community wellbeing. 

Mr Nick was born in 1934 on his beloved Greek island of Ikaria. His father, Spero Snr, had left their home island for Australia in 1937. His plan was to first settle in Australia and then bring the rest of the family from Greece, as he believed he would have a better chance to provide for his family.

Nick, his mother, Lemonia and brother John lived through serious hardship and near-starvation when World War II broke out and the Nazis occupied Greece. Ikaria’s island population was decimated with deaths due to malnutrition. The invaders not only grabbed all the available food, but at the same time prohibited people from leaving Greece.

When Nick’s mother decided that she had no choice but to leave the island, there was not a single grain of food in their home.

On a moonless night, they secretly left the island together with other families in a small row boat, crossed the Aegean Sea and landed in an isolated part of Turkey.

After walking through the forest for three days without food or water, they arrived at a remote village where the local police would only provide food in exchange for jewellery or clothing. After discussions amongst the group, the parents decided that the best chance to find food was to send the children into the village and beg for food from the villagers.

Six months passed as refugees in Turkey, and the group was loaded onto a goods train and transported first to Syria, and then onto Lebanon, Jerusalem and finally in the eastern Sahara Desert near the Red Sea.

I always tell my children and grandchildren, if success is not shared, then it’s not worth having. 

They were placed in a camp surrounded by three-metre-high barbed wire fences in overcrowded tents with up to five families sleeping on the ground. The camp kept some 1500 refugees with only two kitchens to provide prepared food. 

The family lived in the camp for two-and-a-half years in inhumane conditions which Mr Nick remembers all too well.

Once World War II hostilities ceased, the family returned to Greece in August 1945. Nick’s father was planning on returning to Greece to be reunited with his family but a Civil War had broken out in Greece.  With hostilities escalating, Spero Snr decided it would be best to bring his family to Australia. In late 1948 the family migrated to Australia after 6 weeks of travel by boat. 

They arrived in Melbourne on January 28, 1949 – Nick was aged 14 and John was 16.

Great Grandfather Spero in shop

Spero Chapley Snr owned and operated a restaurant called Wattle Café with his business partner in a small NSW town called Moulamein. Once in Australia, young Nick and John worked up to 16 hour days, 7 days a week for two years and saved all of their earnings. In 1951 they bought out the share of their father’s business partner.

Within a short span of time, they changed the café into a mixture of hospitality and retail business by introducing fresh produce, delicatessen, bakery and groceries, which turned the Wattle Café into a thriving enterprise. 

This first business venture taught them valuable lessons about customer service and business ethics. Young Nick’s passion for retailing became a springboard for his later ventures and his passion for creating jobs and opportunities for the community.

For me, real success means treating everyone with respect, working hard, having integrity and giving back to the community.

Nick has always been keen to embrace innovation and has shown the courage to improve and keep exploring new ideas.

In 1958, he and his family moved to Redcliffs, Victoria, had opened a general store and by 1963 it was expanded into a self-service store. Within 7 years, they’d outgrown the store and this pioneering family created a new and bigger premises which became a first-of-its-kind, full-line, modern supermarket.

The family’s long-term goal was always to settle in Adelaide and, in 1979, this dream came true when they moved here to open their first SA supermarket in Craigmore.

Since then, the family has developed more properties and supermarkets in SA including Munno Para Foodland and, of course, the multi award-winning Frewville and Pasadena Foodland stores known collectively as Adelaide’s Finest.

Today, Mr Nick’s business interests including Adelaide’s Finest Supermarkets directly employ more than 1000 people and support some 500 suppliers – overwhelmingly local.

It’s not just in business where Mr Nick has made his mark. A key ethos of the family business has always been to make a positive and enduring impact on community wellbeing. 

Mr Nick and Spero set up Youth Inc in 2006, which is an independent, senior secondary school designed for young people who are looking for an alternative to conventional education. 

It started from humble beginnings assisting marginalised youth to reconnect with some education and work opportunities primarily within the Chapley’s supermarkets. With Nick and Spero’s direction, it has become a successful, innovative school for young people aged between 17 and 24.

An ardent lifelong learner, Mr Nick was keen to share the value of education and help break the cycle of long-term unemployment and improve the self-esteem and life prospects of young people.

“I always tell my children and grandchildren, if success is not shared, then it’s not worth having. We set up this unique school because we wanted to give young people opportunities to succeed, and for me, real success means treating everyone with respect, working hard, having integrity and giving back to the community,” Mr Nick says.

For four generations, the Chapley family has pioneered many retail innovations while setting new benchmarks at its supermarkets. While the family is deservedly proud of its history, it also has an eye firmly set on the future.

Mr Nick and his son Spero share a visionary approach to business and intend to keep reinventing at the groundbreaking new store planned for Forestville.

This master-planned project will transform 3.6ha of land at Forestville into a place where people can live, work, socialise, eat, shop, learn and connect.

“It will really be a reflection of what my father, and our family, has created in the past 70-plus years as we look towards the next 70 years,” Spero Chapley says.

Forestville will feature a piazza-style Market Square at its heart with several eateries, an Urban Green School (Youth Inc campus) and rooftop Urban Farm and residential living plus accommodation, apartment and townhouse living.

Market Square will, of course, feature a high-quality supermarket which builds on everything Nick and Spero have created at their much-loved Pasadena and Frewville Foodland.

The last word is Mr Nick’s: “I’m extremely proud, and also excited, that my life’s journey has brought my family to this point so we can keep innovating, keep making a positive contribution and keep investing in people”.


Adelaide’s Finest Supermarkets

Frewville | Pasadena

adelaidesfinest.com.au

@adelaidesfinestsupermarkets

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